To Kill a Mockingbird Embodies Innocence and Addresses Delicate Concepts of Racism | Teen Ink

To Kill a Mockingbird Embodies Innocence and Addresses Delicate Concepts of Racism

March 11, 2020
By aryavbothra BRONZE, Aurora, Illinois
aryavbothra BRONZE, Aurora, Illinois
4 articles 0 photos 0 comments

In her classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee explores controversial ideas about race, prejudice, and pure innocence. Basing this literary piece on her childhood and hometown in the deep South, Lee further hints at the unstable relations that are disrupted once a crisis rattles a small, southern town of Maycomb. This tightly knit community is separated often by race, but through the eyes of the main protagonist, Jean Louise (Scout) Finch, Maycomb has no such barriers. Yet, as the novel progresses, she is exposed to the harsh reality and hierarchy even within each race and begins to come of age. One specific scene where her growth is evident is when Scout has her first in-person interaction with her mysterious neighbor, Arthur (Boo) Radley. Boo has remained in isolation for the majority of his life, but in this passage, he unexpectedly leaves the solitude of his home to save Scout and her brother, Jem, from an attack. Scout then proceeds to walk Boo home as a gesture of appreciation but stops to view Maycomb from his front porch, a figurative representation of his point of view. In this passage, on pages 373 to 374, Lee utilizes the literary elements of character and motif to accentuate the theme that pure innocence is silence; it doesn’t exist, but its loss is finally hearing the voice of the world. 

Through her characterization of Scout and even Atticus indirectly, Lee is able to cohesively focus key instances that have shaped Scout into a singular event that broadens her perspective, while exemplifying the novel’s central theme. For instance, running through this passage is Scout’s reflection on not only her character growth/maturity, but the realization that growth doesn’t come from age, but a change in attitude/point of view. She further ponders on the application of Atticus’s statement about empathy, when she voices, “Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around...Just standing on the Radley porch was enough for me [because]...I had never seen the neighborhood from this angle” (Lee 373-374). In chapter three, Atticus initiated this idea of empathy and true understanding, which Scout achieves, metaphorically, here at the end of the novel. The Radley Place catalyzed her understanding of this concept because she began to soak in Boo’s perspective. She summarizes the novel, in its most basic terms, from imagined senses that she perceives from Boo, a man that was once a ghost or bystander to her. Boo’s life becomes a witness to Scout’s’ and allows to fathom that despite his isolationist demeanor, he plays a role in her neighborhood and in Maycomb. By ending the book in this manner, Lee creates parallels between this passage (the novel’s end) and the beginning of the whole book. Both are centered around that sole idea of innocence, except the ending is focused on and emphasizes that heightened understanding/fading of innocence. As a result, Lee clearly exhibits that Atticus’s personality actually resonates through Scout, in a way, which highlights the theme because, for Scout, pure innocence or silence didn’t exist. But, as she matured and, specifically on Boo’s porch, stopped and listened/looked around her, the sound of the world or reality was perceivable. Lee’s direct and indirect characterization of Scout and Atticus, respectively, during this passage, acts as an impetus for Scout’s coming of age, but also Boo Radley’s role in the novel. 

After Scout is able to tune her perspective to Boo’s and view her neighborhood from a more objective point of view, she has this understanding amplified/furthered by fathoming what part Boo, the novel’s motif, played in her loss of innocence, but also in the general community as well. To illustrate, this passage really encompasses the purpose of Boo’s recurrence and Scout ends up being the one who reveals the mystery that shrouded Boo. She considers, “I [wonder] how many times Jem and I had made this journey, but I entered the Radley front gate for the second time in my life. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough” (Lee 373-374). Boo is a reiterated notion throughout the novel, especially this passage, and is often victimized by society. The rumors that he’s become suppressed by, in turn, have defined his demeanor, based solely on superstition. Appearing as a sickly, rabid isolationist that has the tendency to attack people, society refrains from interaction with him and isn’t able to recognize the purity in his soul. In actuality, Boo is a protector and an observer, but, by being so, he is a “mockingbird” or face of innocence. And he is able to play a considerable role in Scout’s attaining of empathy or coming of age. By showing Scout his true nature and defining his personality, he removes that sense of definitively from Scout’s perspective of the world. As a child, Scout’s perspective of life was that it was black and white, but as she matures, Boo makes it clear that life isn’t so one dimensional. Boo is embodied by the real world and plays the role of a victimized mockingbird that opens Scout’s eyes to the world they live in, blatantly exemplifying the theme about the coexistence of innocence and its loss. In other words, life cycles to reveal the truth of reality to people and let them hear the world’s voice. Boo induces Scout’s coming of age and shows the theme, being a motif or recurrence, with his portrayal as a mockingbird that society has victimized. 

In essence, Harper Lee depends on the literary elements of character and motif in this passage, at the novel’s end, to bring forth the theme that pure innocence is silence; it doesn’t exist, but its loss is finally hearing the voice of the world. Scout’s character comes of age as she starts to imagine Boo’s senses and Maycomb from his perspective. The porch she stands on is a symbolic representation of the different perspectives that Scout is able to perceive. In fact, Scout also emphasizes Boo’s role within the story as a mockingbird, who is misinterpreted and persecuted by society. Scout sees the innocence she finds that Boo resonates and, for her, it magnifies the reality of the world that has engulfed Boo. This world she now views is not one dimensional because every person carries their own definite voice and stature, which others can see and hear. But, it’s when the voices of those who rarely speak become audible that a new perspective can truly be gained.

The author's comments:

In a society as divided and fractured as ours, it is the profound innocence and oblivion of Scout Finch and Boo Radley that will guide us to unity. Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, is a literary classic that, when manifested in the current rhetoric of our politics and social state, becomes more relevant than ever. This review seeks to analyze the underlying concepts and themes that Lee uses to address racism and portray the delicacy of innocence. 

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